Tuesday, 5 May 2009

What makes a healthy church?

In answer to Eccentric Paul's comments on the Deanery Strategy Group post there have been various pieces of research done to look at the characteristics of "healthy", "successful" or "thriving" churches. The most interesting, from my point of view, are the criteria put forward by Natural Church Development and the Building Healthy Churches process.

The Natural Church Development research looked at a range of churches and attempted to identify the key quality characteristics of growing churches. This research produced the following list:
  1. Empowering Leadership
  2. Gift-orientated ministry
  3. Passionate spirituality
  4. Functional structures
  5. Inspiring worship services
  6. Holistic small groups
  7. Need-orientated evangelism
  8. Loving relationships

Healthy churches, however, began with research which focussed on twenty five churches in Durham diocese which bucked a general trend into decline by 32%. These churches seemed to have the following marks:
  1. Energized by faith
  2. Outward-looking focus
  3. Seeks to find out what God wants
  4. Faces the cost of change and growth
  5. Operates as a community
  6. Makes room for all
  7. Does a few things and does them well

Both NCD and HC do not regard specific projects, programmes or worship styles as significant. The key to these churches' health is the way they operate rather than what they do.

To these lists I could add some thoughts based on the concept of sustainability. For instance, a church should have sufficient professional ministry that local ministry is enabled, but not so much that local initiative is unnecessary. It should be able to pay its' way - but not pay too much so that others become dependent in turn... and so on...

I've also been very interested in the concept of culture change as a learning circle...

I think an interesting project could be set up to help churches identify their specific "sustainability" or "change indicators" and develop a strategy to adopt a "healthy lifestyle".


Peter Leeson said...

I am a little surprised that the "natural church development" is so inward focused. The Church's role as I understand the New Testament would start with those elements listed in position 7 and 8!

John Rowcroft-James said...

What constitutes GROWTH? Numbers in attendance on a Sunday morning?

Tim Norwood (A Vicar) said...

Natural Church Development involved some empirical research and, I suspect, lists the items in terms of their impact on numerical growth. At the same time NCD argues that all eight are equally crucial and that a church will only grow according to its weakest characteristic.

You could argue that the NT church started with enabling leadership since Jesus equipped and nurtured the disciples before empowering them with the Spirit and setting them on their way...

In the context of both pieces of research the "growth" that was measured was in terms of attendance - because it could be measured. Both research teams would say that numerical growth is not everything, but it can be a sign that something is going on.

My reason for quoting this research is that people endless tell me that we should be learning from the large and growing churches. I'm happy to do this, and am very interested that the research indicates that specific programmes, projects and worship styles do not have any particular impact...

Eccentric Paul said...

Thanks for the feedback.

The criteria for a Healthy Church would be as one would hope to get all to feel equal.

However, Eccentric Paul is also a cynic.

How many committees are there in a Healthy Church and how long do PCC/DCC or whatever meetings take?

Tim Norwood (A Vicar) said...

Does a "Healthy Church" need meetings?
If it does what should those meetings be like?
Would decisions be quick because there is no conflict - or long because everyone is involved?

While I'm interested in the NDC and HC research I think this is a discussion that could run and run - and probably should...